Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first-year student at a prestigious New York City music college — he's a jazz drummer — when he's chosen for the school band by the autocratic professor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Thus begins Andrew's extremely physical and emotionally devastating trial by fire, as he strives to survive Fletcher's explosive anger and head games, while also meeting his impossible performance standards.
Writer-director Damien Chazelle's intense drama is a virtual two-hander, featuring a pair of great performances: Watching Teller flail on the drum kit will exhaust you, while Simmons is on fire as the abusive teacher.
Though ostensibly about art, Whiplash is reminiscent of a sports film, complete with scenes of grueling physicality, close-ups of bloody injuries and an exploration of the succeed-at-any-cost mentality. (Fletcher espouses the oft-cited coach mantra of "I push athletes to the breaking point because only then do they perform at their best.") It's a battle of wits that ends up in a disturbing place, though I found the film's final twisted scenes as exhilarating as any action thriller.